Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Into the Chrysalis

28.09.2007
VLT Interferometer detects disc around aged star

A team of European astronomers has used ESO's Very Large Telescope Interferometer and its razor-sharp eyes to discover a reservoir of dust trapped in a disc that surrounds an elderly star. The discovery provides additional clues about the shaping of planetary nebulae.

In the last phases of their life, stars such as our Sun evolve from a red giant which would engulf the orbit of Mars to a white dwarf, an object that is barely larger than the Earth. The transition is accomplished by the shedding of a huge envelope of gas and dust that sparkles in many colours, producing a most spectacular object: a planetary nebula. The celestial chrysalis becomes a cosmic butterfly.

This metamorphosis, rapid in terms of the star's lifetime, is rather complex and poorly understood. In particular, astronomers want to understand how a spherical star can produce a great variety of planetary nebulae, some with very asymmetrical shapes.

A team of scientists therefore embarked upon the study of a star which is presently on its way to becoming a cosmic butterfly. The star, V390 Velorum, is 5000 times as bright as our Sun and is located 2,600 light-years away. It is also known to have a companion that accomplishes its ballet in 500 days.

Astronomers postulate that elderly stars with companions possess a reservoir of dust that is thought to play a lead role in the final chapters of their lives. The shape and structure of these reservoirs remain, however, largely unknown.

To scrutinise the object with great precision, the astronomers linked observations taken with ESO's powerful interferometric instruments, AMBER and MIDI, at the Very Large Telescope Interferometer. In particular, they combined, using AMBER, the near-infrared light of three of VLT's 8.2-m Unit Telescopes. "Only this triple combination of powerful telescopes allows us to pinpoint the position and the shape of the dusty reservoir on a milli-arcsecond scale," explains Pieter Deroo, lead-author of the paper that presents these results in the research journal Astronomy and Astrophysics.

These observations clearly demonstrate that the dust present around the star cannot be distributed in a spherical shell. "This shows that whatever mechanism is shaping asymmetric planetary nebulae is already present prior to the metamorphosis taking place," says Hans Van Winckel, member of the team.

The astronomers found indeed evidence for a disc extending from 9 Astronomical Units to several hundreds of AU. "This disc is found around a star that is in a very brief phase of its life - just a blink of an eye over the star's lifespan of billions of years - but this phase is very important," says Deroo. "It is in this period that a huge morphological change occurs, leading to the creation of a planetary nebula," he adds.

The very high spatial resolution measurements allowed the astronomers to decouple the unresolved contribution of the central star from the resolved disc emission. Even the very inner structure of the disc as well as its orientation and inclination could be determined. The observations probe the physical nature of the disc and reveal that the dust in the inner rim is extremely hot and puffed up. The disc is circumbinary as it surrounds both stars.

Dust processing (coagulation, crystallisation) is found to be very efficient in this circumbinary disc, despite the rather short evolutionary timescales involved. The disc around this evolved object is very similar to those around young stellar objects, in which planets are formed.

"The combination of MIDI and AMBER on ESO's VLTI is an extremely powerful and perhaps unique tool to study the geometry of the material around stars," concludes Van Winckel.

It looks like it is the season for disc 'hunting': the detection of a dusty disc in the notable Ant Nebula was also just announced (see ESO 42/07).

Henri Boffin | alfa
Further information:
http://www.eso.org/public/outreach/press-rel/pr-2007/pr-43-07.html

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht A 100-year-old physics problem has been solved at EPFL
23.06.2017 | Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne

nachricht Quantum thermometer or optical refrigerator?
23.06.2017 | National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Can we see monkeys from space? Emerging technologies to map biodiversity

An international team of scientists has proposed a new multi-disciplinary approach in which an array of new technologies will allow us to map biodiversity and the risks that wildlife is facing at the scale of whole landscapes. The findings are published in Nature Ecology and Evolution. This international research is led by the Kunming Institute of Zoology from China, University of East Anglia, University of Leicester and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research.

Using a combination of satellite and ground data, the team proposes that it is now possible to map biodiversity with an accuracy that has not been previously...

Im Focus: Climate satellite: Tracking methane with robust laser technology

Heatwaves in the Arctic, longer periods of vegetation in Europe, severe floods in West Africa – starting in 2021, scientists want to explore the emissions of the greenhouse gas methane with the German-French satellite MERLIN. This is made possible by a new robust laser system of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT in Aachen, which achieves unprecedented measurement accuracy.

Methane is primarily the result of the decomposition of organic matter. The gas has a 25 times greater warming potential than carbon dioxide, but is not as...

Im Focus: How protons move through a fuel cell

Hydrogen is regarded as the energy source of the future: It is produced with solar power and can be used to generate heat and electricity in fuel cells. Empa researchers have now succeeded in decoding the movement of hydrogen ions in crystals – a key step towards more efficient energy conversion in the hydrogen industry of tomorrow.

As charge carriers, electrons and ions play the leading role in electrochemical energy storage devices and converters such as batteries and fuel cells. Proton...

Im Focus: A unique data centre for cosmological simulations

Scientists from the Excellence Cluster Universe at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich have establised "Cosmowebportal", a unique data centre for cosmological simulations located at the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. The complete results of a series of large hydrodynamical cosmological simulations are available, with data volumes typically exceeding several hundred terabytes. Scientists worldwide can interactively explore these complex simulations via a web interface and directly access the results.

With current telescopes, scientists can observe our Universe’s galaxies and galaxy clusters and their distribution along an invisible cosmic web. From the...

Im Focus: Scientists develop molecular thermometer for contactless measurement using infrared light

Temperature measurements possible even on the smallest scale / Molecular ruby for use in material sciences, biology, and medicine

Chemists at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) in cooperation with researchers of the German Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM)...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Plants are networkers

19.06.2017 | Event News

Digital Survival Training for Executives

13.06.2017 | Event News

Global Learning Council Summit 2017

13.06.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Quantum thermometer or optical refrigerator?

23.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

A 100-year-old physics problem has been solved at EPFL

23.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Equipping form with function

23.06.2017 | Information Technology

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>